Today We Learn About: Righteous Propagation

Righteous Propagation is a critique of post-reconstruction black culture and examines the race’s various means to regain their pride, self-love, black consciousness, and identity. The book’s author, Michele Mitchell, uses copious primary sources to explain post-reconstruction African-American culture, painting a vivid picture of the many attempts of the race to find their place in America. Finding this place in America was no easy task for many members of the race, and the book’s author details many of these attempts, both successful and failed.

Depending on the chapter, Mitchell uses any of a number of sources for her book. Righteous Propagation has a wide variety topics that all seek the same means, and the sources that are used reflect the topic that is being discussed. For example, the chapter about the use of dolls to enforce self-pride in black children uses advertisements for these dolls and the words of advocates for the use of these toys. The chapter on race literature cites period pamphlets and other published works. Mitchell does not hesitate to analyze any and every relevant source in an effort to illustrate the communities wish for pride and identity.

Although the book features a series of chapters that could easily stand alone as essays, there is a cohesive nature to the piece. This is a testament to the continuity of the research and the manner with which it is presented. Mitchell is unwavering in her approach to the subject matter, treating each topic as equal to the next. This is helpful to the reader, as it aids in absorbing all of the information equally instead of drawing clear preferences towards topics dear to the author’s heart.

While the information is arranged in a method that makes absorption easy on the reader, the book is by no means easy to absorb. In considering every source available Mitchell has packed this book with information, making it a very dense read. In order to fully understand the intricacies, many passages warrant a second and some a third. For this reason, casual readers need not apply. In an academic setting, the book goes a long way in explaining the politics of racial destiny after reconstruction, serving as an invaluable tool to students and allowing readers to obtain further insight into a topic that Mitchell’s own colleagues thought to be difficult if not impossible to research and write about it an appropriate manner. It bears repeating that this book would not likely sit well with a casual reader unless that reader had a particular interest in the topic at head.

Throughout the book, the reader repeatedly asks herself or himself, “What does this research show?” This is certainly not an easy question to answer. The book provides an enormous amount of information about the various topics discussed. The research is exquisite. Yet, the reader asks, “Was this book necessary?” The answers to these questions are as intertwined related as possible in a historical work. The research and book as a whole, show that no matter the circumstances Black America was willing and able to rise to occasion. Even coming off of four hundred years of enslavement, African-Americans were willing and ready to try anything and everything in order to preserve, take back, and gain a greater sense of pride and self-love. The black community sought out and created many different ways to identify themselves as intelligent, independent, and in search of something better for themselves and their families. Looking back on some of these means through the view of current times, the reader may think certain ideas like relocation to be somewhat drastic. However, Mitchell does a good job of showing that the community saw this as but one of many options for their survival, growth, and proliferation.

Upon completion of the novel, the reader will come away with concrete lessons and feelings towards the lessons learned. Righteous Propagation shows that there were many means of preserving black-consciousness, pride, and self-love in post-reconstruction America. These include gaining independence from the nation by emigrating, as well as taking back or creating anew the race’s idea of manhood, sexuality, reproduction, conduct, house hold behavior, appropriate children’s toys, miscegenation, and sexual politics. The preceding methods of preserving pride and black consciousness serve to inform the reader of the limitless possibilities for the race as they were starting with a totally clean slate within their own communities. Surely their interactions with the nation’s whites had for years been taking place in a predictably subservient fashion, but with the community African-Americans had much to discover about one-another and their attitudes towards the progression of the race.

The reader also walks away from the book feeling sympathetic to the struggle of post-reconstruction African-Americans. Creating a new place within society for a group that had for the previous four hundred years been subjected to horrific treatment under slavery and servitude is no easy task. It is almost as if the entire race was inside a cage, only to have the cage opened into a foreign land. In many instances the search for identity, pride, and self-love resulted in lynching and death as men and women pushed the envelope over the line of what was largely considered as acceptable. How were these people to know what was acceptable when, until emancipation, nothing was acceptable? By banding together and following the example set by race leaders many African-American men and women prospered the best they could considering the circumstances. Still others grew into, or raised the next generation of leader for the community setting the race on a path that it is still on today. A path that confronts racism and injustice head-on in an effort to full acceptance and assimilation.

This idea of racial preservation through assimilation also plays a prominent role in Righteous Propagation. A current that runs throughout the book, Mitchell suggests without explaining that in an effort to preserve the race, Black Americans were willing to do whatever it takes. Some were comfortable with emulating the successful whites of the nation in their various mannerisms and view of self. Others thought it more appropriate to leave the nation all together and go to Africa, escaping the nation that held the race captive for so many years. Still others felt it would be best to simply lay low, taking care of the house hold and staying out of political affairs in an effort to gain acceptance by the nation. No matter the steps taken, they were always as a means of racial preservation and this point should not be lost on any who read this book.

The idea of moving to Africa is of particular interest to this reader. The nation of Liberia was set up by a division of the United States government in an effort to give Americans of African descent a place to go should they decide to return to the continent from which they came. This option proved enticing to some, and not to others. Various groups were founded to aid in the transport of African-Americans, but Mitchell tells of the failure of proper planning by groups involved in the transport. Of those that made it to Liberia there were mixed results. Some flourished in the nation, setting up their own plots of land and running successful farms. There were also members of the community that went to Liberia and found it to be a terrible place to live. They wrote back to the United States, telling of their experiences. This fact raises questions in the reader, however.

If a person of African descent has the means to travel to Liberia, then to write home about their experience and to have these experiences published it is reasonable to assume a few points. Firstly, this person is well-off enough to make this journey, for the journey was not free. The person is also in good enough health to survive the journey. In addition and most telling is the fact that the individual was literate, able to write a letter home. Going further, the person in question was influential enough to have their thoughts published. These points may seem irrelevant, but they raise a very specific question. Is it not reasonable to assume that the person traveling to Liberia, and reporting back negative experiences was well-off and perhaps even wealthy? With this in mind, one ponders the lifestyle that the traveller is accustomed to living. Does this lifestyle effect the manner with which the traveller views Liberia? For an upstart nation may not have the same facilities or luxuries of the urban northeast of the United States. The writer of these letters may have had certain expectations that could never be met, whereas a former plantation worker may thrive in the environment. This further begs the question, is it even likely that the plantation worker would read the newspaper article in question?

No matter the questions that arise from Righteous Propagation, the book is a triumph. It’s thorough examination of black culture in post-reconstruction America is unmatched in clarity and depth. Michele Mitchell creates a narrative where one does not seem to exist, and the topics of the book are nothing if not intriguing and thought provoking. This book is a must read for any student of African-American history, post-reconstruction history, and the history of slavery’s effects on the populace shackled by it’s chains. Clearly presented and flawlessly executed, Righteous Propagation serves as a reminder to the power of self-awareness, persistence, pride, and consciousness.


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